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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mac Mini: What am I?

Another day, another Apple post.
Mac Mini gets an update with HDMI!
Great headline but the second you investigate further you become sadly disappointed.

Firstly I have been in the market for a Mac Mini for a while. I essentially wanted a browser and VLC on my tv, with the option of iPhoto and itunes integration either locally or via the network.

Apple TV was always too limited in features and compatibility with codecs to be a serious contender and besides i wanted to run full internet and manage downloads etc. My problem with the mini however has always been the lack of HDMI, sure there were converters but it seemed inevitable that they would embrace HDMI. Well today they did.

At first glance I was excited, it has been a while since I actively looked at the mini. The specs looked good, the build to order options allow me to get rid of the optical in place of an extra HDD and it connects via HDMI! Then as i looked up the price, the bubble burst.

It starts from £629!!


Lets not forget the first Mac mini was designed to take advantage of the perceived iPod 'Halo effect'  nabbing cheap ass price aware PC users looking to spend less than £400 and expand their market share. At £339 the first Mac mini was well designed and affordable.

The frustrating reality is that if I was to get a Mac mini to sit under my TV, I'd want the 2xHDD drives in place of the optical and I'd want 4GB RAM (hardly excessive). With these tweaks in place Apple would now charge me £929!


Like the G4 Cube before it, Apple seems totally lost as to what this product is.

Is it a Media Centre??

It has hdmi, but aside from that it just runs OSX. there has been no effort to make handling media any easier than on any other mac. It also doesn't come with IR blasters or Blu-Ray to supplement other areas of your home theatre rig. We also can't forget the existence of Apple TV, which although just a 'hobby' for Apple, is clearly aimed at this market.

Is it a low end Mac??

Hell No.
For £929, you could pretty much have an iMac or a Macbook Pro, each of which has competitive specs and features like, I don't know, a screen for example. Or if Macs aren't your thing you could buy two iPads and an iPod Shuffle.

Is it a server??

Yes, it kinda is.
Without going in to it too much Ars Technica did a review of the Mac mini server edition back in January and concluded that the value for money for small businesses was excellent. While there would still be some need for expert consultation, the money saved, particularly on the license front would make this more than affordable. Ars also made the point that Apple had made the mistake of setting a 4GB cap on RAM and only offering 5400RPM HDD options. With todays offering boasting 8GB and 7200RPM options , it seems Apple was listening.

Is it the new Cube?

I think it is.

The G4 Cube, as gorgeous as it was wasn't cheap enough to be a consumer machine and wasn't customisable enough to be a pro machine. It existed somewhere in the middle and was reduced to a popular product placement machine in gritty lawyer type dramas.

Server uses of the Mac mini aside, it is too expensive to be an entry level mac and too limited in software features to be a proper HTPC.
Apple appears to be floating around the invasion of the living room, not really certain how to strike. On the one hand we have this pricey Mac with no real living room software integration and on the other we have the Apple TV which is rumoured to be sporting iOS with Apps'n'all for $99, however will be locked down to proprietary formats in a flashless existence.

If this was £339 for the entry level and £450 for the top end I would be buying one tomorrow. Instead I will be looking to my Xbox to plug the media centre hole, but with no IE on Xbox (WTF?), I guess I'll wait and see what Google TV looks like.


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